18 April 2015

How Natalia Pogonina makes us feel better about chess

The 2015 knockout FIDE Women's World Championship finished earlier this month, with Natalia Pogonina coming in second.  She had some perceptive things to say about the mental side of chess in her follow-up interview with ChessBase; some of these points relate to an earlier post on mental toughness.  Others speak to the value of training and the need to focus on the task at hand when in a tournament situation.  Pogonina's calm, mature attitude combined with an intense fighting ability has served her well.
My preparation was more serious than usual. In early March I played a training match against a strong GM. We agreed to keep his name a secret, although if he finds it acceptable, I will gladly reveal the mystery. We played standard time control chess, rapid, blitz and even Armageddon. This was very interesting and useful. I believe the match helped me a lot, especially since I hadn’t played anywhere after the Russian Superfinal in December. I was rusty and lacking practice. Without such training it wouldn’t make much sense to participate in the [women's world championship].
One shouldn’t set any limits for oneself. I didn’t have any particular goals and didn’t treat it in the “the minimal task is to reach round X” way. I was mentally prepared to go home after the very first round. If I move on, it’s nice. If not, it’s also fine, because I will return to my family. Maybe this attitude helped me to focus on the game itself instead of dwelling on the results. My attention was on the game, not on the outcome.
...I demonstrated certain psychological weaknesses in the Final. I made blunders: not just chess ones, but human mistakes, so to speak.  Also, of course, I was very tired, so I wasn’t able to recover and readjust my game. I didn’t have a fresh head for the Final. I spent too much time studying theory. Even if we caught Mariya in preparation from time to time, I didn’t have enough stamina and mental strength to capitalize on it.
During the post-match press conference I was asked how I felt about being the Vice Women’s World Chess Champion and what expectations I had. My answer was that I don’t have any particular emotions and that I am already occupied with preparing for the upcoming World Team Championship. As to expectations, my reply was that now I have a chance to play the Grand Prix events and have secured a spot in the next World Championship. The audience has burst out laughing. Did I say anything wrong?
What are my expectations? The event has granted me valuable experience. It is also nice that some people watched me coming back over and over again and have arrived at their personal conclusions. Hopefully, they will be setting fewer mental barriers for themselves and will believe more in their own powers. One’s duty is to do one’s job well and to hope for the best.

1 comment:

  1. Natalia is one of my favorite chessplayers, and I really appreciate her outreach. she has done many Q&A session on her website and I find her attitude admirable, and instructive. I myself did an interview on my blog several weeks back that made a similar point. Great chessplayers obess on trying to do the best they can and work on all their flaws.... and patzers obsess over rating! LOL

    seriously appreciate the mental toughness theme in your blog; and I think it is a HUGE part of one's game. ... and a part that equally applies to anyone who tries to win a chess game; from the rank beginner to the World champion.

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